On Tuesday, after my grandpa’s wake ceremony, my grandma’s friend had suggested we go eat vegetarian food at a temple. Eating vegan/vegetarian food is a normal occurrence in Chinese culture during special occasions including deaths and their anniversaries so my entire family thought nothing of it. We said sure, and were given the address.
When the twenty of us arrived, it was not a temple, but a corner lot with a gigantic white house. Inside we had to remove our shoes or put coverings on our footwear. There were people dressed in robes listening to a person reciting stuff and some people kneeling on the floor. At first inspection it looked like some sort of private Buddhist temple, except for what happened next.
The entire family was given forms and was pressured into signing them, including the young children. Real Buddhists don’t do this. In a Buddhist temple, it is peaceful and people come and go as they please. Our family goes to the Buddhist temple regularly, in fact there was one couple streets down from this house. Pens and papers were shoved in everybody’s faces. Why was it so important that we filled out these forms?
Instantly, me and dad thought this was kind of fishy so we refused by pretending that we had already done this once before. I actually had faint recollections that my parents and me had been involved in something similar before my sister was born and knew that if we put our names down we’d be heckled into coming back. Everybody else did fill out papers convinced it was just part of a procedure we were required to do to honour grandpa.
The rest of the family was led up the stairs to another room with wooden floors. In the middle of the room was a Buddha and its accompanying statues, much like the ones you can find in regular people’s houses. Like me, my parents and my sister did not sign the papers but we tagged along to watch what was going on.
The boys and the girls were to go through separate initiation ceremonies that involved a lot of name calling and bowing down to teh ground. There wasn’t too much mention of grandpa. Since my family wasn’t really participating, we were led to the dining area to wait. We weren’t allowed to eat until everyone was at the table. Dinner was in fact vegetarian, but it was only satisfactory. There were too many things pretending to be meat but were obviously not meat. I had better vegan food at Hogtown Vegan. After dinner, we were supposed to finish with another chant or ceremony. Everybody was shoved up the stairs. The four of us ran away while nobody was looking. We escaped.
What aggravated me was that they were quick to pocket grandma’s money and they also took this mourning period as an opportunity to prey on people’s beliefs in order to get new members. I know that can happen in more than one specific religion but it’s not right. I love my grandpa. However, worshiping at a place that may be taking advantage of us is something I refused to do. The majority of us had been at the wake ceremony from 11am-7pm. We were hungry and exhausted. We arrived at this “temple” at 8pm and could not leave until 10pm. We had the funeral ceremony and burial the next morning. Whoever suggested this wasn’t thinking about us, but for the cult.
I looked up that house on Google and learnt that it was listed as a temple for organized Taoism. What is weird is that my cousin had interrogated some members and they denied that it was Taoism or a religion in general. They just said it was “the truth”. Taoists are generally proud people so that was strange. Taoists also stress “the natural way” and being humble. My aunt who also refused signing papers wanted to watch her children (who just blindly signed it) go through ceremonies, but it was not allowed. They even put a screen in front of her to block her vision when she followed everyone up to the ceremony room. At the end of the night all people over 16 were required to pay $10. Being so forceful doesn’t seem natural to me. Maybe this was some form of organized Taoism or the Taoist thing was just an image for tax purposes (that would make the forms make sense) and this was in fact a cult.
I delved deeper into Chinese religions, secret societies and cults and found that the closest thing to what we experienced was something called Way of Former Heaven. This supposedly combines Taoism, Buddhism and Confuscianism and best matches the mismatch of what we got that day. I consider myself an atheist, but I don’t mind partaking and learning about the beliefs of others as long as nothing is forced upon me. In the above case it seemed like it was.